Party revellers at  Jamaican reggae dancehall artiste Etana's Pamoja Festival concert on the 30 October at the Ngong Racecourse. Photo | Pool


Shots anyone? Kenyans are ready to party again, vaccinated or not

What you need to know:

  • The energy is back. The mood is sizzling and for a moment—for this night—the hardships, fear, and panic of the last almost two years are forgotten
  • The parties are back on. The curfews are now history and everyone is in a hurry to eclipse the past.

It's 9 pm on a Friday evening on a dimly lit road in Kilimani where the nightlife is slowly taking shape. The parking lot is full and Uber drivers are parked outside Galana Plaza anticipating a night of harvest when the deep-pocketed revelers in nearby clubs finally call it a day.

On the ground floor of the building is one of the biggest clubs, B Club where young women ready to show the latest twerking dance moves shine on with the skimpiest of dresses. The men, make peace with their bulging wallets as the speakers flare up with the latest, H_ART THE BAND rendition, My Jaber. "My Jaber Unametameta. Utakunywa nini wallet nimeleta….." the speakers' boom as an excited group in the corner drown shots. 

A lift at the Galana Plaza takes other revelers to a different club, Kiza Lounge. Here the music is just as loud, the crowd eager and the alcohol is flowing. 

Competing for a slice of the action, a few miles away is the famous Blacky'z at Chaka Place. The parking lot is full and the security guards are busy directing latecomers to park on the roadside. 

The energy is back. The mood is sizzling and for a moment—for this night—the hardships, fear, and panic of the last almost two years are forgotten. The parties are back on. The curfews are now history and everyone is in a hurry to eclipse the past.

Party revellers at  Jamaican reggae dancehall artiste Etana's Pamoja Festival concert on the 30 October at the Ngong Racecourse. Photo | Pool

It's a scene replicated in nightclubs and bars across most Kenyan cities and towns. It's a celebration, a release of the emotional tensions accumulated during the caged phase of the last many endless months. 

At the end of October, eateries, bars, concert venues, and theatres sighed as the Covid-19 rules were either relaxed or lifted. 

As the parties picked, vaccination drives were still ongoing and many wondered whether they were in tandem with the merrymaking explosion. To put into context, as of October 25th, five days after the curfew lifting, only 4,930,336 Corona vaccines had been administered with 3,504,400 Kenyans partially vaccinated and 1,425,936 fully vaccinated. The figures had slightly gone up by last Saturday with 5,624,230 vaccines being administered, 3,787,211 partially vaccinated while those fully vaccinated standing at 1,837,019.

But do the revelers care? Well yes, but then again not so much. 

Selina Wanjiru a Digital Marketer, has been clubbing for the last few weeks at her favourite club in Kilimani, Nairobi. Although she contracted Corona in 2020, she is yet to be vaccinated but that won't stop her from partying.

"To be honest I don't know why I keep forgetting to go for the jab." the 28-year-old, says. She is not, however, worried.

"When I contracted Covid, it wasn't that severe. I was also told my body is now aware of the virus. I guess that is why I have become complacent. I don't see why I should stop clubbing. I don't see why I should be extra careful, really. At the club, people show up with a mask at the entrance, but once inside you will not see a single mask on," she says. 

When the vaccine rollout began in March, President Kenyatta promised that 10 million Kenyans, which is about 27 percent of the population, would have been vaccinated by December of this year. The government targets to vaccinate over 27 million Kenyans by the end of 2022.

Despite the odds, young Kenyans are now eager to release cabin fever. 

Victor Njagi is yet to receive a single jab of the vaccine. The 20-year-old Architecture student at the University of Nairobi, however, could not resist the temptation of attending the sold-out Pizza and Wines Festival along Kiambu Road, that happened after the restrictions were lifted. Saturday Nation established that over two thousand tickets were sold for the event.

"No way, I could have missed that show. How could I possibly have missed out watching Omah Lay's first performance in Kenya? Yes, I was concerned that I hadn't taken the jab but you know this life is for the living," Njagi defends.

The beats at the Royal Gardenia Gardens where the concert took place, pumped with more zeal just after the sun went to bed. Nikita Kering's performance was electric, Omah Lays' phenomenal. Njagi was one of the hundreds of euphoric, mask-less revelers who crammed onto the dancing floor, with the only social distancing created being temporary pockets by the rhythmic moving of the crowd.

Njagi's reason for having not received the jab? "I haven't found the time yet. I had college exams and a number of special projects. Besides, I was on some strong medication and was advised not to take the jab before I completed the dose. Now that I am done, I will find some time and have the jabs," he assures.

A day earlier, another huge concert dubbed Pamoja Festival went down at the Ngong Race Course, Nairobi, where Jamaican reggae-dancehall Chanteuse, Etana wowed a crowd of about a thousand attendees.

Whilst at the gates, the discerning bouncers and security teams were notoriously finicky and selective ensuring all revelers had proper requisites with those without masks being dismissed with a 'hauingii bila mask', only a handful had their mouths and noses properly concealed once inside.

"I wasn't going to ditch my mask once I was in like most people do. I did contract the virus some months back and the experience was not a very pleasant one. I try as much as possible to adhere to the health guidelines regardless of where I am," noted Camilla Owora, 29, a Public Relations Strategist at the Pamoja Festival.

Owora who is partially vaccinated awaiting her final dose insists that whereas it is a relief to have the events back in full force, it is also prudent for the partygoers not to ignore the health protocols even as they party.

"Many young people harbour this narrative that they don't stand a big chance of contracting the virus like the older folks and even if they do, they are of the view that they will wean it quickly. Nothing can be further from the truth. I am a youth as well and when I contracted the virus, I was in good health considering I exercise regularly but it took a huge toll on me. I would encourage people to be vaccinated; it enhances your chances of protection," Owora advises.

The PR strategist also feels that the government needs to work with the event organisers to vaccinate people on event sites. 

"You know this is a catch 22 situation since a lot of businesses are trying to recoup from a year-plus of lost business. It can be difficult to control the crowd. I would encourage the government to work with the event organisers to find ways to vaccinate people before and during events," Owora says. 

Her sentiments are easier said than done. In Europe, the rules around the reopening of clubs and entertainment joints vary and continue to change as days progress.

France and Italy have allowed bars and clubs to re-open to only the vaccinated ones in an effort to ensure everyone is going for the jab. In the UK, club patrons are required to vaccinate. The Netherlands briefly allowed clubs to open in June before a spike in cases including one where 1,000 cases were linked to a dance music event led to them being shut once more. 

Scientists have warned that packed clubs, concert venues, and other social joints crowded with sweating pleasure-seekers shouting above the music for hours on end, are ideal grounds for the spread of Coronavirus. For people like You Tuber and Influencer Maureen Waititu, their preference is to attend the high-tea kind of events and other classy social turn-ups as opposed to concerts or go to clubs to avoid overcrowding.

"Covid-19 is not a joke, I wonder why people are not going for the free vaccines that are now abundant and readily available. As for me, I prefer going out and attending small gatherings, which in most cases are the classy ones. The other day we attended the Moët & Chandon Champagne Day, and the attendees were barely 50. With such a small gathering, social distancing is achievable and easy for everyone. I am not against big concerts, though," the mother of two argues. 

Waititu's sentiments do not go down well with Chef James Ngare who also does outside catering. Ngare is a relieved man since the return of the events. The last two weekends, he has been smiling all the way to the bank from the proceeds of the meals he sold as a vendor at two different events in Nairobi. Ngare is partially vaccinated but even after receiving the jab, believes contracting the virus is a game of chances.

"I was at the Pizza and Wines Festival and sold every single meal I prepared. Last Saturday I was at the South African DJ Black Coffees' event at the Ngong Racecourse and the place was fully packed. People really don't care; they just want to have a good time. It has been a long year. People are tired of the pandemic and most have left the situation in God's hands. Let life be, we can't continue being in a hostage situation forever," says Ngare. 

When the rollout of the vaccine began, many Kenyans showed an urge to receive the jab but a lack of vaccines initially, was behind the slow take-up. Now hesitancy is one of the main drivers stopping many from going for the vaccine as they adapt to the situation. But even then, medical experts were also quite pleased when the curfew was lifted and a life of normalcy was allowed to return. 

"In this stage of the pandemic, what matters most is not the number of infections but their relationship with hospitalisation or death. As has been demonstrated for example in the UK, the most important is not closures, curfews, and lockdowns but vaccinations," stated Dr. Githinji Gitahi, the Group CEO of Amref Health Africa and Commissioner on the Commission on African Covid-19 Response.

Even with the mixed sentiments, the Bars, Hotel, and Liquor Traders Association of Kenya members are relieved. According to the Association chairperson, Simon Mwangi, the industry lost over one billion shillings to Covid-19. The Association, which has 54,000 registered members, was forced to cut down when the curfew was in effect. These led to the traders laying off workers while others resulted in the reduction of salaries. 

"We had been reduced to paupers, the situation was of concern, and had the government continued with policy, the industry would have died. The best bet now is working with the government to limit the spread of the virus," notes Mwangi. 

Before the restrictive measures were vacated, the association revealed that 15,000 bars and restaurants had closed shop plunging over 90,000 workers into joblessness. Local artistes also lost out, as gigs halted. 

"I am glad we are back to work. I have been against the curfew since day one because it was not helping the situation. The infections were still there. People can only do their best regardless of the situation," artiste Khaligraph Jones voices. 

For now, Kenyans are just glad that they are finally able to carry on the business of living at all hours. Vaccinated or not, life continues. 

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